With fast-melting snow in the mountains adding to the Merced River, authorities are asking recreational swimmers to stay out of it this summer.
Northern California saw one of the wettest winters on record, and all that precipitation caused snow in the Sierra Nevada to build up quickly.
Warming temperatures are causing melting snow to flow into the Merced River. The cool river may be inviting, but it’s dangerous, according to Nancy Koerperich, the Merced County fire chief.
“We want to encourage people to stay safe and stay out of the river in the coming months,” she said in a news release. “We absolutely do not want a tragedy this summer, especially one that can be prevented by simply staying away from the high flows.”
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996,000The amount of acre feet in Merced River in an average year
About 996,000 acre-feet of water flows down the Merced River in an average year, according to the Merced Irrigation District. Since Oct. 1, Lake McClure has passed about 1.7 million acre-feet of water downstream.
Officials with MID are preparing for another nearly 1 million acre-feet to reach the reservoir in the coming months. An acre-foot is equivalent to about 326,000 gallons, or enough water to cover an acre of land with a foot of water.
“This is a record-breaking year in terms of snowfall and that is translating into large volumes of water in the Merced River,” said Hicham ElTal, deputy general manager at MID.
Melting snow made the waterway rise in 2011, a wetter-than-average year, officials said. That summer, there were several near-tragic events along the river as boaters ignored warnings about the water levels. Water so far this year has been even higher, officials said.
When somebody goes out in those swift-moving waters, they’re not only risking their own life — they are also risking the lives of those who have to rescue them.
Nancy Koerperich, the Merced County fire chief
Other swollen waterways in the central San Joaquin Valley already have proven deadly for swimmers this year. A high school senior from Fresno drowned in the San Joaquin River on May 20, and a Modesto man died the next day at the Modesto Reservoir.
“When somebody goes out in those swift-moving waters, they’re not only risking their own life — they are also risking the lives of those who have to rescue them,” Koerperich said.
Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke said no one will be allowed to enter the river for recreation.
“The area will be patrolled and there is a zero-tolerance policy for violators,” he said in a news release. “Additionally, anyone who enters the water and needs to be rescued can be held personally liable for the costs associated with that operation.”